What You Should Donate Instead of Your Time

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The U.S. as a nation often commits itself to the ideal of service. We honor those who choose to join the military, we establish organizations like AmeriCorps and Teach for America, we lift up philanthropy whether it's great or small. That's great, but the charitable organizations we try to serve often get an awful lot of what they don't want.

Economists in Oregon and Texas have just released a study effectively looking into the ROI on volunteering. People really want to do direct, hands-on work when they give back — think of all the soup kitchens, community gardens, and animal shelters you've supported with your time. The thing is, in-person volunteering gives the volunteer a warm, happy glow and the organization they're helping not so much at all.

"If you make $100 an hour, then you go work in a soup kitchen and don't provide $100 worth of service in an hour, they would be better off if you just gave them $100," said Portland State University's J. Forrest Williams, one of the study co-authors.

"Please just give money" is a recurring theme in philanthropy: Ethical tourism is better directed toward local activist groups, while charitable giving professionals urge donors to work directly with a cause, rather than spontaneously handing out your change. It's no accident also that crowdfunding is often about burnishing your personal brand as a giver; even politics can come into play with your financial gifts.

Sure, it doesn't feel as good to send a check or click a "donate" button. But your money will do a lot more good than your time usually will.